The importance of a balanced diet to a Child’s development.

The importance of a balanced diet to a Child’s development.

Most parents understand the importance of a balanced diet to a child’s development and growth. But, few realize the lasting importance of creating healthy eating habits and instilling an early appreciation of different foods at an early age. Studies have shown instilling an early appreciation for a variety of foods last a lifetime — see more.

The key is striking a balance between exposing them to a variety of foods in the right proportions to help maintain a healthy body weight. The foods you prepare and serve should be a diet based high on starch like grains or their flours i.e. home made french fries, baked potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. Foods high in starch are a good source of energy, fiber, and B vitamins.

Children’s diets should also include several daily servings of fruit and veggies which are low in calories and protein but are high in vitamins and minerals so vital for development. Importantly, a variety of protein-rich foods including chicken, fish, meat, and lentils are essential to aid in muscle growth and repair.

Another great source of protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals are dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and yogurt. Dairy products also contain calcium, which helps keep their bones healthy and strong. Finally, as much as possible avoid foods with empty calories full of fat, salt, or sugar.

Please, see the list below from a Huffington Post blog post entitled “Encouraging Your Child to Appreciate Food” from Katie Cavuto MS RD along with a few of my own.

1. Help them eat real food. “Keep it simple and eat whole foods in their natural state and appreciate all of their yummy goodness. Fresh is best. Biting into a local peach is quite magical. The sweetness of a fresh, in-season tomato? Spiritual. Celebrate real food. Teach your children about the genesis of their food. Teach them that the milk they are drinking comes from a cow or a goat or make almond milk from scratch at home to demonstrate the process. Explain the difference between a whole food and the products they eat from a box. Make it fun. Teach them to ask questions, and to seek to understand”.

2. Help them grow something. Few things are more powerful than the act of planting a seed, watching it sprout and then grow into something edible. This somewhat simple act is one of the best ways to teach food appreciation as your child will be connected to the entire process — including caring for the plant on a daily basis.

3. Take your kids shopping. I know, the act of grocery shopping with your kids can be a bit chaotic, but there is a lot to be gained from giving it a go once in a while. For starters, a trip to the store or farmers market can help overcome the disconnected thinking that food magically appears in grocery stores. You can talk about seasonality and reiterate the lessons about where food comes from. You can involve your kids in the shopping and make it fun. Have them pick out a piece of produce from each color of the rainbow or choose a new and unusual ingredient they are excited to try.

4. Get them to help with cooking. Cooking a meal from scratch is so rewarding. It pains me that so many people have lost touch with their kitchens and that their ovens are used as backup cabinets instead of cooking vessels. These days, many a meal comes from a box or a take-out container instead of our stoves. Cooking a meal for your family is a great way to control the ingredients you consume. Cooking a meal with your family is an amazing way to spend time together, to learn about ingredients and flavors, and to encourage experimentation with new foods. It is a well know fact that children are more incentivized to try a new food if they are involved in the preparation.

5. Ensure they take the time to taste. First and foremost, eat with your kids. Enjoy the same foods, together. When is the last time you sat around the dinner table and discussed with your kids what they were eating and how is tasted? We eat foods that we enjoy, yet take for granted why we enjoy them and how they actually taste. Ask your child to describe the flavor and texture of their meal or the individual ingredients. Ask them to talk about the colors on their plate.

6. Talk and teach. According to the data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than one-third of our kids are overweight or obese in the U.S. alone (Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). The numbers have tripled in the last three decades. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012 (Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). In a world where Process Food Companies not only dominate grocery aisles they dominate the marketing to our children. So it’s important kids know where their food comes from, how it’s grown and how it helps their bodies function. The discourse has shifted from eating for sustenance to merely eating for pleasure whether it’s healthy or not. We need to teach kids to love fruit and veggies as much as they like chicken nuggets and understand the difference.

7. Teach them to read Labels. Please find listed below a suggestion for reading a “nutrition facts label”.

1. kids need to know to start with the serving information at the top of the label. This indicates the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per package.

2. Have them check total calories per serving. Have them pay close attention to the calories per serving and how many servings they will eat if they eat the entire package. Explain If they double the servings they eat, they double the calories and nutrients they take in.

3. Teach them to know the limit of nutrients intake for Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, etc., which varies depending on age, gender and or activity level. Several governmental health agencies recommend limiting these nutrients.

4. Ensure they understand there are certain nutrients they need every day such as dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients.

5. Lastly, have them review percent of Daily Value which indicates the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of their daily recommended amount based on age, gender, etc.

Find out your child’s personal daily limits on the American Heart Association website.

8. Eat with your kids. According to childrensmd.org “Eating, at least, three family meals together each week is associated with healthier kids, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics. This was a large meta-analysis of more than 180,000 children”. It’s a fact that the eating habits of kids early in their development often last a lifetime. The study went on to show families that ate, at least, three meals together each had a 20 percent decrease in unhealthy food choices. Given the childhood obesity epidemic prevalent today that makes a big difference in combating unhealthy eating habits among our youth read more.

9. Make sure kids drink plenty of water. According, to study published in the American Journal of Public Healthkids aren’t drinking enough water. The study’s lead author, Erica Kenney, a scientist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, originally planned to look into a number of sugary drinks kids were consuming in schools. However, during her research, she found that many kids were simply not drinking enough water.” As any parent would know, it’s difficult to get your kids to drink water. Here are few tips.

  • Teach them the importance of water consumption to their overall health and development.
  • Lead by example, drink water with them as often as you can.
  • Have a bottles of water around the house and when you’re out with your kids for easy access.
  • Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles. Provide it for them throughout the day as they play to keep them hydrated.
  • Encourage them to choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages whenever possible
  • Encourage them to choose water instead of other beverages when you go out to eat.
  • Add a slice of lime or lemon to give it some flavor and make it fun.

By following these few simple steps you will ensure your kids get the right amount nutrients they need for their growth and development.

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